South in icy grip, as latest winter storm defies warming predictions

Promises of a warmer winter are not bearing fruit as new winter storm grips the South, bringing its largest city, Atlanta, to a full stop. Even the governor's inauguration event was canceled.

By , Staff writer

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    Snow falls against the backdrop of the Georgia State Capitol the night before Gov.-elect Nathan Deal is to be sworn into office Sunday, Jan. 9, in Atlanta.
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The South's largest city, Atlanta, turned into a frosty icicle Monday morning as yet another cold snap and winter storm undermined predictions that the region would see a warmer and wetter winter than usual.

Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas all saw up to six inches of snow fall overnight Sunday, pushing America's warmer-weather creatures firmly inside, save excited sledders and snowman-builders. The storm also took a toll in Louisiana, where two people died in traffic accidents caused by icy conditions.

Metro Atlanta and its 5 million residents arguably took the brunt of the storm, as lack of snow-removal equipment left the vast majority of side streets overlaid with an ice sheet as deep and hard as a hockey rink. Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines canceled 1,400 flights Monday, largely due to conditions at the world's busiest airport, Hartsfield Jackson International.

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After many Southerners experienced the second unusually cold and snowy December in a row – including Atlanta's first white Christmas since 1882 – the warming trend predicted by long-range meteorologists at the National Weather Service has so far failed to appear. A regional high-pressure system over Greenland – the North Atlantic Oscillation, or "Greenland Block" – has thrown a wrench into traditional, and easier-to-predict, weather patterns.

The unusual winter conditions, especially in the South and parts of the mid-Atlantic, have renewed debates about manmade global warming, with many scientists saying the cold weather is proof of climate change and skeptics saying such global-warming hype has left many unprepared for one of the coldest and snowiest decades in 40 years.

"We haven't really seen a cessation of the cold in the South, and we haven't seen any evidence that the cold is going to disappear over North America," says Jonathan Martin, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison. "There's really no stop to the general pattern that's allowed air chilled at high latitudes to spill southward toward central and eastern North America."

Across the South, motorists were having trouble navigating icy streets and bridges. In Atlanta alone, many cars were stranded and abandoned Monday morning. The scene didn't quite rise to the level of the December ice event that turned parts of the city's northern suburbs into a demolition derby, with more than 1,000 minor accidents as the result.

The governors of Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee declared states of emergencies, and most schools and colleges above the snowline were shut down. In Auburn, Ala., students hoping to watch their Tigers win a national championship Monday night will have to scramble for party spaces as the school canceled all on-campus viewing parties.

Georgia officials canceled the Sunday night inauguration gala for incoming Republican Gov. Nathan Deal over safety concerns, though Mr. Deal was still scheduled to be sworn in at a small ceremony Monday morning at the Capitol.

Rare wintry scenes with a Southern twist played out all over Atlanta. In Piedmont Park, a local TV station showed a group of revelers sledding in a kayak.

The storm also illustrated the South's lack of preparedness for a deep chill trend. With few plows working side streets, and colder temperatures expected to hang around for days, Atlanta is likely need several days to get back on its feet, as commuting will remain treacherous on roads packed with hard ice.

The storm system is expected to track to the Northeast by Tuesday, dropping as much as a foot of snow on Northern cities like New York, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg has struggled to manage a busy early winter snow season.

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